The first episode of a major three-part documentary hosted by Professor (and British Lord) Robert Winston* was shown on BBC1 Television, Sunday evening, 4 December 2005. It is called The Story of God.
Winston, who earlier this year visited AiG-USA for two days to debate AiG-USA president Ken Ham and to film portions of the future Creation Museum, will discuss the creation/evolution debate for the series' third segment (to be broadcast this Sunday throughout the UK). Lord Winston, by the way, was the host of Walking with Cavemen, the 2003 evolution series co-produced by BBC and the Discovery Channel, so his strong beliefs regarding evolution were already known before he visited AiG in Northern Kentucky.
In the first episode, Lord Winston comes across with a condescending manner-so very sure of the infallibility of his own ideas.
The theme of his first programme was nothing new. It was the familiar, evolutionary concept of the development of religions-the kind of evolutionary, comparative religion studies that I was taught at school some thirty years ago.
“Why did mankind start believing in God at all?” asked Winston, in a question that reveals many telling presuppositions (e.g., the question immediately implies that God is an abstract concept invented by human beings). A belief in an external deity is labelled from the start as the product of a primitive civilisation. This gives Winston the opportunity to observe all the religious ritual he wants, in his white suit and hat, while remaining above it all, in what this reviewer would describe as a pompous manner.
“In telling the story of God, we will be telling our own story,” explains Winston to the camera, “and learning a little bit more what it means to be human.”
I realised I was in for an evolutionary account of the development of religions as soon as Winston chose his first places of worship-caves. Unspoken, the viewer is invited to consider cavemen (the topic of a previous documentary hosted by Lord Winston) as early worshippers of divinities, as cave drawings and hand symbols in the Gargas caves of France are presented to the viewer.
Winston then moves to death rituals. He suggests they evolved in order to protect us from our fear of carrion.
Lord Winston then asks: “How did we get the idea that there is some kind of divine power in overall control of the world … and of us?” We could tell him that the answer is found all the way back in Genesis. “
In the beginning, God …” is at once the most simple yet most profound philosophical statement in the world. In addition, God never had to prove His existence-expecting us to already understand that belief in Him is the rational explanation for all that we see and sense (Romans 1:20, Psalm 14:1).
Yet Winston suggests that the answer to his question is to be found in the complex calendar requirements of agriculture, illustrated by an eccentric Anglican vicar sprinkling some “holy” water over a tractor. “So God comes from the seasons”, Winston suggests. Genesis, however, teaches us something quite different, as we read that God, on day four of creation, said, “
Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons and for days and years.”
Winston's thesis of an evolving God then took the viewer, via the human sacrifices of the Aztecs, to animal sacrifices in temples and to the god-lists of Sumerian cuneiform writing.
He also implies that there are “creation myths” older than the biblical account of creation (a question he posed to Ken Ham when he visited AiG-USA). For a refutation of the idea that the Bible is influenced by Sumerian legends, see, for example, A Comparison from secular historical records.
Winston then went to India and Sri Lanka, to witness what he calls gods in human form-Shiva and Meenakshi. He suggests that Hinduism developed from Aryan Brahmins. Then he examines one of the most famous “teachers”, Buddha, and his pragmatic atheism. “Man is his own salvation”, a Buddhist monk tells Winston.
The conclusion of episode one shows Winston traveling to Iran, where another Aryan Brahmin, Zoroaster, decided that there is only one God, Ahura Mazda, “the Wise Lord”. He tells us that Muslims, Jews and Christians will recognise in Ahura Mazda the eternal struggle of good and evil.
So Winston has set the scene for his next two programmes (including one that has just aired in the UK on 11 December; AiG may comment on the second episode when it reviews episode three that is to be broadcast on Sunday, 18 December, and which prominently features AiG): Winston is the enlightened, slightly amused and highly superior onlooker to these “primitive” religious ideas, all at different stages of “evolutionary development”.
In the programme, God comes across as only a construct of the human mind, having developed in our thoughts as a force of nature necessary to agriculture, up to the “highest form” of monotheism.
Thus far, this is not an objective documentary. It appears to be the preaching of one man's philosophy (without allowing any challenge to his basic evolutionary assumptions). It will be fascinating for me to watch this Sunday evening as the creationists are afforded some opportunity to challenge his evolutionary view of religions (should the producers not engage in too much selective editing).
Like many BBC documentaries, The Story of God may be shown in 2007 in other countries, including the USA (perhaps on the Discovery Channel).
*Professor Lord Robert Winston is well known in the United Kingdom. Born in 1940 as Robert Maurice Winston, he was created a 'Life Peer' in 1995 (largely for his pioneering work in fertility studies), and today regularly comments on a wide range of medical, ethical and scientific issues in Parliament, scientific journals and the media.
Worldwide, he is well known for his several BBC television series, and is recognized for communicating often-complex science to a wide public audience. Lord Winston is the current president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Off camera, he told AiG-USA that he is neither an atheist nor an agnostic. Return to text.